“By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” (Hebrews 11:4)
In this passage, the Lord gives us a glimpse inside the world’s first family. Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve, are the focus of the verses. For the context of the text we need to go back to the book of Genesis. It is a book of beginnings. Genesis records the beginning of the universe, the world, the sun, moon, and stars, animal life, plant life, and human life, along with many other important religious and spiritual foundations. In Genesis chapter four Scripture tells us that there were only a few people around, Adam and Eve, Abel’s parents and Cain his brother and some unnamed brother and sisters, who lived long ago. They were the first inhabitants, the first home makers, in a very different culture, witnessed the first violence in the family which lead to the death of a righteous person “Abel”. He has something to say to us today that is more relevant than the today’s Braking news.
Since the first couple in human history fell into sin, the most important question for every person to answer is, “How can I, as a sinner, be right before the holy God?” Proverbs 14:12 states, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Hebrews 9:27 plainly states, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” Since none will miss that appointment, it is vitally important to answer the question, how can I be right before God, who is absolutely holy? There are two ways that people approach God, -- the true way and the false way, and these are represented by Cain and Abel and the offerings they brought to the Lord. The Bible calls this “the way of Cain” (Jud 11).
The religions of the world could be compared to Cain. They are all trying to work their way to God. They are all sewing together their own coverings and offering God fruit of their hands but have disregarded the way in which salvation takes place. Cain was the 1st human being born of human parents; he also was the 1st murderer. The path of sin always leads to disillusionment, defeat, and death. The path of sin always leads away from peace, hope, and joy. The path of sin always ends in the fires of Hell. Cain was the first man who brought his works to God. --- A lot of people are still coming to God the same way -- they come by works; the list of man's works could be endless. Isaiah 64:6 says “all our righteousness’s are as filthy rags; “ There is only one way for a sinner to rightly approach God, and that is through the shed blood of the Lamb; and to exercise faith in God, this means to recognize this fact and to approach Him in this way. Abel's offering pointed to Christ, and he came by faith--that is the way of salvation.
Without question Adam and Eve’s children could witnessed many, many times as their parents offered sacrifices to God, Abel and Cain were school in this truth all their lives, it was nothing new to them. They must have been taught by their parents in the proper procedure to offer a sacrifice to God. Surely, Adam had communicated these facts to his sons. They did not think up on their own the idea of bringing sacrifices to God. No, God had clearly revealed to Adam and Eve the necessary and proper way to approach Him. They had made this way plain to their sons. But Cain disobeyed, while Abel, by faith, obeyed.
In contrast to the way of Cain is the way that his brother, Abel, approached God. (Hebrews 11:4) The first thing to notice is what motivated Abel to offer his sacrifice? Our reference in Scripture to Abel points out His faith. Such a faith is indispensable in our worship of God. The Bible is clear: “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Gal 2:16). Salvation by human goodness or works is impossible (Eph 2:8-9). We realize that Abel was not trying to please God by his works. He wasn’t being religious. He wasn’t seeking acceptance based on his deeds. He saw something that Cain didn’t see. Abel saw into the future to the day when Christ would take away the sin of His people. Abel, by faith, offered a sacrifice. Although Abel was the first man in human history to die, “though he is dead, he still speaks” How does he still speak? In several ways:
First the writer of Hebrews said this about Abel’s sacrifice, “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did”. It implies there was a pattern and method to approach and worship God. The faith of Able is remarkable in that it centres on obedience. Cain was rejected because his offering was not acceptable to God. Abel was accepted because the offering he brought was acceptable to God. To Cain, his offering was more attractive than Abel's, but Abel's offering was what God wanted, what He had previously made clear, because He had revealed His way of salvation to his parents, Adam and Eve.
So, while Cain placed upon the altar the fruits of his own labour -- grain, vegetables, which he had raised by his own efforts and there is no evidence of faith in the promises of God. There is no evidence of preparation. It seems to me that Cain was merely following a form and that there is no love in his heart for God, or gratitude to God for His blessings. Cain’s offering was an act of false worship. But Abel, his brother, took a perfect lamb, killed it, poured the blood at the side of the altar and placed the lamb upon the altar. In Abel, there is an acknowledgment of sin and of his need of a Savoir. His sacrifice revealed the condition of his heart. He loved God. He honoured God’s Word. He believed in God’s promise to send a Savoir.
Abel's offering anticipated the coming of the Lamb of God. Cain's offering made no acknowledgment of sin; but Abel's sacrifice and offering spoke not only of his sin, but also of God's remedy for sin. Bible says “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.”(Heb 9:22) Abel's sacrificial offering couldn't take away sin, but it foreshadowed the coming of Christ who is "the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world."(John 1:29) God will not accept our religion. He will not accept our works. He will not accept anything we can do to attempt to save ourselves. The only thing God will accept is what He has already provided. He will accept nothing but faith in the atoning sacrifice and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is but one remedy for sin and that remedy is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ went to the cross to die for sin and for sinners. He gave His life so that you might be given a new life
Second, Abel still speaks to us about the ultimate vindication of God’s elect and the judgment of the wicked. Abel knew that one of his own descendants would be born and crush the head of the serpent. He proved that his faith was real as he acted on what he believed. Faith was operative in the life of Abel. He heard God’s Word and followed what God said. Everyone in the world, all that are alive today and that has ever lived are like one of these two individuals, we are either saved or lost, believers or nonbelievers, all of us are either as Abel or as Cain when it comes to our position with God. Biblical faith never rests on manmade ideas, or on vague speculations. It rests on the revealed word of God. Abel, by faith, had obeyed God’s command. Cain refused to submit to it. Abel’s faith pleased God; Cain’s disobedience displeased God. Cain revealed his lost condition through an unbelieving heart. He refused to come to God God’s way. In short, he rejected the Gospel of grace and God rejected him. When the Lord told Cain to “do well,” He meant, “Bring the kind of sacrifice that you know that I commanded.”
Third, “By faith he was commended as righteous “Abel still speaks to us by his righteous life, apart from any words. We have no recorded words that Abel spoke, and yet thousands of years after his death, he still speaks. This shows us the power of a godly life, not only in his lifetime, but also on successive generations. In this story of Cain and Abel it is highlighted for us by what followed the cold-blooded murder of Abel. Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" He said, "I do not know; Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9)Cain's insolent and arrogant response to God's question is a sign of his inward, unacknowledged guilt. This is always the way of guilt -- to disclaim responsibility. Cain replies, "My brother? What have I to do with my brother? Am I my brother's keeper? Is it my responsibility to know where my brother is?" The hypocrisy of that is most evident. Though Cain could disclaim responsibility for knowing where his brother was, he did not hesitate to assume the far greater responsibility of taking his brother's life.
Dr. Carl Henry wrote a book called The Uneasy Conscience of Fundamentalism, which bothered many people when it first came out. In it Dr. Henry pointed out that the segregation which many Christians adopt, the segregation which removes us from contact with non-believers, has also successfully removed us from struggling with some of the pressing social questions of our hour. We have oftentimes been quite content to sing about going to heaven, but have shown very little concern for the sick and the poor, the lonely, the old, and the miserable of our world. Isaiah 58 is a ringing condemnation of such an attitude on the part of religious people. Other passages from the Scriptures make clear that God is infinitely concerned in this area of life, and those who bear his name dare not neglect these areas. Let us be perfectly frank and honest, and admit that this is a manifestation of Christian love which many have tended greatly to neglect. The church, therefore, has largely become almost exclusively self-seeking.
The church was never intended to minister only to one segment of society, but is to include all people, all classes, and all colours, without distinction. Both the Old and New Testament alike are crystal clear in this respect. These distinctions are to be ignored in the church; they must be, otherwise we are not being faithful to the One who called us and who himself was the Friend of sinners of all kinds. We must be perfectly honest and admit that this has been the weak spot of evangelical life, this failure to move out in obedience to God's command to offer love, friendship, forgiveness, and grace to all people without regard to class, colour, background, or heredity.
If we still are hesitant to face some of the things this passage brings before us, perhaps we need to look on to what God says to Cain “The LORD said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother's blood. No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth."." (Genesis 4:10-12NLT) Cain thought he was acting in secret, but of course everything is open before God. God said, "The blood of your brother is crying to me, from the ground!" Abel's blood shouts at God. It makes demands upon his justice and his love.
Hebrews speaks of "the blood of Jesus, which," says the writer, "speaks of better things than the blood of Abel," (Hebrews 12:24). We know what he means. The blood of Jesus is crying out before God for forgiveness. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," said Jesus from the cross (Luke 23:34). The blood of Jesus is crying constantly for mercy, for grace to all who take refuge under it, and thus it does speak of "better things" than the blood of Abel. But the blood of Abel speaks too. That is what God is saying to Cain. "Your brother's blood is crying something to me that I can't ignore. It is shrieking to me from the ground. It is crying out!" It cries to a God of justice
Now notice carefully that it is crying out for vengeance from God, not man. "Vengeance belongs to me," says the Lord... (Hebrews 10:30, Deuteronomy 32:35). It never belongs to man. It is not man's task to avenge these things. In fact, when man assumes that role he only makes it worse. He unleashes a vicious cycle which escalates rapidly into all-out anarchy, and sometimes war and destruction. But nevertheless, God is driven to act. This is what this ancient story of Cain and Abel tells us.
Finally, Abel still speaks to us about the fact that the measure of a life is not necessarily its duration or impact made during the person’s lifetime, but donation over history. Abel was the true success. Luther observed that when Abel was alive, he “could not teach even his only brother by his faith and example,” but “now that he is dead [he] teaches the whole world.” “He is more alive than ever! So great a thing is faith! It is life in God”. It teaches us man comes to God by faith not by works? Man cannot follow reason and ignore revelation; he must abide by God's standard and obey it, sin is severely punished for the one who doesn't obey. So Abel is the preacher, and he preaches a timeless sermon, and it says in effect just what the Holy Spirit wanted the reader's of Hebrews to hear, "The just shall live by faith."
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon